The private jet owing pastors by Tony Ademiluyi
A friend had been urging me to come to her church which is one of the pentecoastal churches in Lagos. In her words, it’s a new church and the General Overseer was said to possess special healing powers and had a penchant for miracles.
On the said day, I grudgingly went there and was amazed to see that the church was filled to the brim — since it was a new church I thought it would still be struggling with members. The service commenced in earnest with the focus being on material prosperity. The general overseer cum pastor prayed and exhorted the congregation to pray for their financial breakthroughs. We were all urged to sow painful seeds as that would guarantee God’s forcing of his hand to bless us all. I was forced to dip my hands into my pockets during the offering time which was also tagged ‘blessing time.’ I whispered to my host that I didn’t have a dime left for tithes and she squeezed some cash into my hands to drop into the offering basket. I was tempted to put it in my pocket as I couldn’t understand how an all rich God could demand for my widow’s mite in order to bless me.
When the news broke out of the purchase of a private jet by Apostle Johnson Suleiman of Omega Fire Ministries, my mind went back to the service I attended in that rather obscure church. It resonated with the shift from salvation to prosperity that has swept through nearly all the pentecoastal churches in the country. It’s even creeping into the orthodox churches and threatening the entire foundation of the Christian faith.
These mega pastors have been given rather lame excuses that they need these jets to perform ‘God’s work’ better and at a much faster pace. Suleiman said that you don’t own jets through tithes and offerings that he does businesses which gave him the economic power to procure the aerial wonder on the wheel. One wonders what sort of business which is obviously a threat and a distraction to his original calling to preach the Gospel of Christ.
These modern day religious wheeler-dealers own educational institutions and businesses built on the back of their sheepish followers that the latter cannot enjoy. It is tragic that many of these followers who cannot boast of owing a vehicle so vehemently defend their latter day messiahs who have only succeeded in brainwashing them to the point of stupidity.
In the days of yore after Jesus Christ handed over to the trained apostles who had toiled with him for three grueling years, they were commissioned to spread the good news of our Lord to the ends of the earth. These men were unlettered and materially poor. They strove to perform their new task with boundless energy which brought them into conflict with the authorities. With the exception of John who lived to ripe old age, the rest were killed in the most gruesome of manners. Apostle Paul who is credited with spreading the gospel the most was a poor man. He had to forsake his lucrative trade as a lawyer for the lowly one of a carpenter as he didn’t want to be a burden on the brethren even though the latter would have gladly met his material needs. Stephen, the first martyr wasn’t known to be a lover of gold and fine wine. The first set of disciples weren’t known to keep horses which were the symbol of prosperity at the time or live in beautiful stone houses. The calling of a disciple was one of forced poverty and full dedication to the cause of the spread of the gospel of Christ.
The missionaries that came after them lived rather austere lives. They sacrificed everything to bring the liberating news to Africa. Asides the gospel, they brought education, healthcare amongst other goodies to the African continent to enable the message penetrate much easier and faster. They did this before the advent of aeroplanes. They bravely encountered sea storms and adverse weather conditions at sea to berth in the Dark Continent. They didn’t compete amongst themselves for who drove the best car or wore the best clothes or lived in the best home.
The history of materialism among pentecoastal churches has its roots in the United States. The 1920’s was a time of unprecedented prosperity in Uncle Sam in the build up to the Great Depression of 1929 when the stock market crashed. Americans needed assurances of more prosperity and the message of these ‘Men of God’ greatly appealed to them.
It spread to Nigeria through the late Bishop Benson Idahosa who famously said that ‘My God is not a poor God.’ He subsequently had disciples in Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, Pastor Chris Okotie and the trend has persisted till this day with the likes of Bishop David Oyedepo, Pastor Sam Adeyemi, Pastor David Ibiyiome, Rev Enoch Adejare Adeboye, Pastor Joshua Iginla — the latest pastor jet owner, Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo and a host of many others.
What led to the speedy acceptance of these pastors and their message was the collapse of the Nigerian state beginning from the Ibrahim Babangida years. The absence of a soothing balm from the state actors led the hapless masses to place their hope in these smooth tongued purveyors of the modern day gospel. The church was seen as a haven of peace and love as the traditional African family system witnessed a brutal fragmentation as a result of the anti-people policies of the military. The hoi polloi didn’t mind their religious leaders driving these private jets as long as they had assurances that their miracles were on the way. The pastors took advantage of this to serially rape the minds of this impressionable congregation. Professor Wole Soyinka’s ‘Trial of Brother Jero’ aptly describes how gullible the congregation is using Brother Chume as an archetypal stereotype. The prophetic Fela Anikulapo-Kuti sang about these new preachers of the gospel in his evergreen songs.
The attempt by the government to regulate these churches has been met with stiff opposition by these jet loving pastors. They have repeatedly claimed that they are non profits despite the fact that they have evolved into business concerns. We saw what happened when the government tried to regulate the powerful Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG).
It’s my hope that the docile Nigerian congregation opens their eyes wide to see that their so called pastors are also part of the reasons why they are poor as they don’t preach rebellion against the corrupt government. Their preaching suppresses their ability to make revolutions possible. The so called Malachi law which is the basis for tithing is an Old Testament law which is a vestige of Judaism and incompatible with modern day Christianity and should be discarded forthwith. Are the pastors descendants of Malachi? Can their ancestry be traced to the Levites?
Religion is now the bane of the masses and the opium as Karl Marx rightly described it. It should be jettisoned for more of common sense if the masses are to free themselves from the clutches of this jet riding and aspiring to jet riding ‘Men of God.’
Ademiluyi writes from Lagos.